Friday, December 15, 2017

How I Write

By Rebecca Connolly

One question that I get more often than any other question from new writers or people who want to be writers or passionate readers who care about writers is “How do you do it?”

How do you get published? I don’t know, because what works for one author may not work for another, and there are so many different avenues and opportunities these days that there is no surefire way to get published.

How do you write a book? You just do it… I don’t know any other way to say it, unfortunately, because AGAIN there are so many ways you could do this and so many different schools of thought.

How do you write while working full-time/raising a family/(insert obstacle of choice)? Now this one I know.

I am not a full-time writer. I work a very full-time career in a completely unrelated field and have two degrees in that area, so I have never been a writer and nothing else. How do I write with all of that? I make time for it. I have established one very important principle in my life with regards to writing and everything else: You make time for what is important to you. You make it a priority, and you make time for it.

If you want to be a writer, write. It doesn’t matter what else you have going on in your life, and it doesn’t matter how much you write when you do. But write something every day, or every other day, if that’s better for you. Write one sentence, write three hundred words, write ten pages; it doesn’t matter except that you write. There will never be a perfect moment or perfect time to write, not when we lead such busy lives. So MAKE time for it! Evenings, lunch hours, early morning, of fifteen minutes in the afternoon. Doesn’t matter. Just do it!

 In the one (yes, only one) creative writing course I took in college, our professor said this: “Over the course of this class, I will do everything I can to convince you not to be a writer. If I succeed, shame on you.”

I didn’t know then how true his statement was, but I certainly do now. In the world and market of literature that we have chosen to inhabit, so many things work against us. So we, as writers, have to be dedicated to our craft. If we aren’t actively working towards our dreams, if they aren’t a priority to us, why should anyone else believe in them?
Emergencies happen, of course, and life gets in the way. But write what you can when you can, even then.

Write for whatever motivates you to do so.

Write because you have a story to tell.

Write because you can’t help yourself.

But write.

And that’s how you do it.
Rebecca Connolly writes romances, both period and contemporary, because she absolutely loves a good love story. She has been creating stories since childhood, and there are home videos to prove it! She started writing them down in elementary school and has never looked back. She currently lives in Minnesota, spends every spare moment away from her day job absorbed in her writing, and is a hot cocoa addict. Social Media:  
Blog: Facebook page: @rebecca.connolly.books Facebook profile: @writer.becks Twitter: @rconnwriter Instagram: @writer.becks

Thursday, December 14, 2017

It’s Just Not Christmas Until….

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Many beautiful Christmas stories have been written about our Christmas traditions. Each of us has our favorite. I like to think our favorite is the one that most fits our own personal Christmas traditions and memories. It seems that we make the telling, reading or watching of these stories a part of our Christmas tradition. It seems it just isn’t Christmas until we revisit these tales.

My family has traditions of our own. They include decorating the house, having a certain meal, attending "The Singing Christmas Tree" performance at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova TN, visiting the decorated Peabody Hotel in Memphis, and of course spending time with our family.

Over the years I have realized from the Christmas tales of others there are other traditions I have found very interesting. I would enjoy them if only I had time to do so. It seems to me we have become so immersed in our own traditions we have yet to enjoy those others that interest us. One that has always fascinated me is the Christmas Bonfires on the Levee.

On the Great River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is one of the most unusual Christmas Traditions. For some 35 to 40 miles on the Mississippi River levee it is tradition to build and burn on Christmas Eve large bonfires to welcome and show the way to Papa Noel. For 150 years these elaborate bonfires, built to a height of 12 to 30 feet and setting 150 feet apart, come in every shape and form one could imagine have lit the way along the Mississippi River for the delivery of toys for every girl and boy. Over the years these bonfires have developed from a pile of wood most were in a teepee shape into shapes telling the heritage of the river and its people. It’s not uncommon to see bonfires replicating steamboats, plantation homes, Zapp’s potato chip bags or crawfish.

The building of the bonfires has become an event in itself. Accompanied by fireworks, the burning of them would be a spectacular sight for miles and miles. It is easy to see why the 3rd and 4th generations of those from Southeast Louisiana have made this their tradition. I would have to think they would say “It just isn’t Christmas until the Christmas bonfires burn”.

What is your tradition that is a must to bring in Christmas? Please if you would share it with us in the comments below. Enjoy your traditions and Merry Christmas from Southern Writers Magazine!       

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Find Your Voice

By D. P. Lyle, M.D.

So, you’ve finished your manuscript and sent it to an agent/editor. Now, you wait, hoping they will sign you up.

What makes them decide? The unique premise or clever plot? The colorful characters? The snappy dialog and wonderfully rendered setting? No, the most important thing agents/editors look for is the voice. When they say they’re searching for something fresh, something that speaks to them, they mean the narrative voice.

What is voice? It’s hard to define, or describe, but like other great art, you know it when you see (read) it. It’s a combination of word choice, rhythm, sentence structure, pacing, tone, and other equally difficult to define qualities.

My definition: Voice is your distinctive way of telling your story. It comes from three things: Knowledge, Experience, and Confidence.

Let’s look at how each of these will help you find your unique voice:

1—Knowledge: Most things we learn along life’s journey come from others. An apprenticeship of sorts. For sure, medical school was that. So is writing. To write, you must read. See what others are doing and how they’re doing it. Some writing will speak to you, other writing might not. You will gravitate to word choices, sentences structures, and the sound of some writer’s voices and not those of others. Besides reading widely, try this: Go to the library, your local bookstore, or even use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon, and read the first few pages of 50 books. Some will work for you—-the operative phrase here is “for you.” Take what speaks to you and embrace it in your own writing.

2—Experience: The great Australian writer Bryce Courtney often said that the secret to writing was “bum glue.” Glue your bum to the chair and write. Write every day. Write your way. Copy the styles of writers you like. Not that you will write exactly the same way, but rather elements of their writing that work for you will creep into your own prose. This will evolve over time and before long, like riding a bicycle, you will be off and writing in your own voice.

3—Confidence: This, to me, is the key. Be fearless. Tell your story in your own words, your own voice. Don't worry what others might think or whether it fits the so-called rules. Tell your story your way. Knowledge and experience breed confidence.

Don’t forget that writing is art, then craft. The art is the storytelling; the craft is making it cleaner and more publishable. Don’t let the craft kill the art. Don’t over edit as you go. Write the story fast, write it your way, in your voice, then go back and clean it up. As Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. Get drunk on your writing, spill it on the page, then take a sober assessment and fix what needs fixing. Write fast, edit slow.

In the end, your voice is yours. It’s personal. No one else has it. Let it out. Don't handcuff it. Let it guide you through your manuscript. In the end, you’ll have your story, told your way. That’s always the goal, and it’s what agents and editors and, most importantly, readers are looking for.
D. P. Lyle is the Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Silver Award winning and Edgar(2), Agatha, Anthony, Shamus, Scribe, Silver Falchion, and USA Today Best Book(2) Award nominated author of 17 books, both non-fiction and fiction, including the Samantha Cody, Dub Walker, and Jake Longly thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in novels. His essay on Jules Verne’s THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND appears in THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS and his short story “Even Steven” in ITW’s anthology THRILLER 3: LOVE IS MURDER. He served as editor for and contributed the short story “Splash” to SCWA’s anthology IT’S ALL IN THE STORY. He is International Thriller Writer’s VP for Education, and runs CraftFest, Master CraftFest, and ITW’s online Thriller School. Along with Jan Burke, he was co-host of Crime and Science Radio. He has worked with many novelists and with the writers of popular television shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars. Social Media Links: .Website: Blog: Crime & Science Radio: Twitter: FaceBook:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Seven Basic Plots

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

If you're a writer who's been on Facebook or YouTube lately, you've probably been presented with a video ad for Ron Howard's Master Class on Directing. In the promo, he makes reference to a theory held by some that there are "seven stories".  I thought we might briefly explore those seven story lines from which most tales spring forth.

Christopher Booker is credited for writing the book on the subject, namely The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories. At around 700 pages, it's a thorough analysis of each story line, breaking each down into their own set of stages. For the sake of this post, here is an oversimplification:

Overcoming the Monster
Not always a literal monster, but a major threat to our hero, who takes up the challenge to destroy it.

Rags to Riches
An underdog overcomes the odds to become top dog.

The Quest
Our hero must find a treasure of great value, and embarks on a journey to find it. 

Voyage and Return
Our hero lands in a place unlike home and must learn new rules to prevail. Eventually he/she returns home better than before.

A goal is impeded by funny obstacles.  Often, if the main obstacle is a person, they get a come-uppance in the end.

Our hero is his own worst enemy, with qualities that lead to his downfall.

The ultimate character arc, in which the hero transforms into a new being, literally or figuratively.

In reading these, you may have already assessed that many stories contain more than one of these plots, and you'd be correct.  For example, isn't The Wizard of Oz a quest for a treasure as well as a voyage to a strange world?  Booker himself acknowledges the frequent overlap of two or more of these plots, and even mentions two more which he considers less common:

The hero rebels but ultimately surrenders to, and perhaps joins, the powers that be.

The hero seeks to discover the truth of a murder or other unexplained event.

Some writers feel that lumping stories into categorized plots is disrespecting their originality. Others feel that there are as many as 25 plots, not merely seven. Ron Howard implies that there is just one, but we may have to buy his Master Class to learn what that is.

In his classic book Story, legendary screenwriting expert Robert McKee declares: "A rule says you must do it this way. A principle says this works, and has through all remembered time."  Why reinvent the wheel from scratch when someone has already rounded off the edges for you?

The fact that we can think of our favorite movies or books and see how they fit into one or more of these story lines is testament to their enduring effectiveness and popularity.  Could you possibly insert your hero's name into one of the seven plots and refine it into the logline for your next novel?  Your own creativity will make the time-tested tale uniquely yours.

Authors: which of these seven (or nine) would you say approximates the primary plot of your most recent novel?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Indie Authors and Editing


The world of being an independent author—aka an indie author—is challenging for many reasons; the list of which is exhaustive and exhausting. That aside, I want to touch on an important aspect of being an indie author: editing.

Novels are all about the writing. A real epiphany for some, I’m sure. You will live or die as an author by the quality of your writing. Words are the art form after all. As an author, you take a pallet of twenty-six letters and paint a book. When you’ve written your novel you hand it over to your audience. An audience who is also your worst critic: the reader. The reader wants perfection in your writing without even realizing they want perfection. One misspelled word in a sentence will tear the reader out of your writing and back to reality. It’s shocking and never appreciated by the reader when this happens. Your writing needs to be flawless, with smooth sentences and paragraphs that flow into a pleasure of reading that floats the reader along for the ride and gives them the experience they paid good money for. To achieve this your novel demands an editor. You are not an editor. You’re an artist. You can’t mix the two up.

Indie authors have a finite resource pool to pull from. Indie authors will look to friends for help. This is a bad idea (unless your friend is a professional editor); however, another set of eyes is better than nothing. I would suggest that your friend with the arts degree in English is also a very poor substitute. You require someone who understands how to edit a novel in your genre for readers and provide honest, constructive criticism without worrying about hurting your feelings.

Your choices are varied. You can find in minutes on Google, a plethora of professional editors to take your novel to the next level. They will cost you a lot of money because they are professionals. This is where you need to have a long, honest discussion with yourself and determine if your marketing solutions will return your investment in an editor. Be warned: indie authors are not prolific in sales, especially for a first time author. You need to be realistic. Your novel will not be an instant best seller, and earn you accolades and wealth beyond reason. The return of investment in your beautiful novel will not equal the amount of money a professional editor will demand for payment. You might have to settle for something less; such as a freelance editor.

Whatever you chose, just know as soon as you publish your work it is out there, for good or bad. If you fail to take the time to polish your hard work with an editor, you will need to be ready for the criticism that will surely follow from readers jolted out of the pleasure of reading your novel.
“Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” Hunter S. Thompson.
DONALD D. ALLANis a Canadian author of fantasy and science fiction and an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy.He is the gold winner of the Dan Poynter's Global eBook Awards 2016 for the category Fantasy/Other Worlds for his debut novel Duilleog, the first novel in his New Druids series. His second novel, Craobh, is the bronze winner of the same award and category for 2017. Donald lives with his wife Marilyn, son James, daughter Katherine, and dog Woody, in Ottawa, Canada.Donald is currently working on Freamhaigh, the fourth volume in the New Druid series, and a sci-fi novel involving nanobots from 3 billion years ago.Connect with Donald D. Allan::BLOG:

Friday, December 8, 2017

Snags & Hooks: Keep Your Own Counsel

By Bob Strother

Have you ever looked into a clear mountain stream and watched as the water flowed quickly and evenly over a bed of smooth stones? Or seen the froth bubbling up where the same flow encounters a sharp-edged rock protruding above the surface? I find similarities between that stream and the writing and editing process.

First, let me stress how crucial I believe it is for a writer, whether an old hand or a novice, to belong to a critique group. I’ve been writing for over fifteen years, but have never taken a piece of work to my critique group that wasn’t improved through the process, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Still, there are a few factors all writers should keep in mind.

Most critique groups have members with varying skill sets, varying degrees of craft knowledge, and possibly, genre focuses quite different from your own. Even so, those members might not hesitate to offer advice—some of which might be spot on, other times not so much.

The writer needs to carefully sift through all those suggestions and, in the end, choose only those that feel relevant to the work. Taking everyone’s advice all of the time can leave you with a technically well-written piece that interests no one. All its sharp edges and, more importantly, the author’s voice will have been stripped away much like the water has removed the edges from those smooth stones in the stream bed.

Earlier this year I was awarded first prize in a literary journal’s fiction competition—money and publication. I was on Cloud 9, of course, until I received the editors’ (more than one) suggested changes. As I went through the comments, I realized one thing: If the judge who awarded me the prize saw this story in its present state, she wouldn’t have recognized it.

The editors’ notes explained how their suggestions were “just moving the story along.”
In one section where I’d written … a nice little bottle of chardonnay they’d picked up at the corner market… the comment was “what’s this have to do with the story? Cut it.” My answer was simple. It and a spate of other similar phrases are, in fact, a critical part of the author’s voice. They’re everything to the story. Fortunately, a senior editor spied the damage about the same time I did, erased the prior suggestions, and left the piece pretty much intact.

My advice to other writers is also simple. Listen to your critique group, but don’t accept any and all advice a face value. You’ll know what feels right and what doesn’t. Trust your instincts. Keep an edge in your work. Snag your readers. Hook them before they—like the water in that stream bed—rush on by.
A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, award-winning author Bob Strother has over one hundred and twenty-five stories, essays, and poems in print. His work has been published internationally and adapted for film. Previous publications include a collection, Scattered, Smothered, and Covered and a novel-in-stories, Shug’s Place. His novel Burning Time, and its sequel, A Fire To Be Kindled were released in 2015 and 2017, respectively, through moonSHINE review press. Bob’s short story “The Peanut Man” was awarded second place in the magazine’s 2015 Fiction Contest.  Bob lives with his wife, Vicki, in Greenville, South Carolina.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Writer’s Conference Main Perk

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

As Dr. Seuss said in his book Oh, The Places You'll Go!, “You have brains in your head you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” 

There have been many a blog posts written about the value of writers’ conferences and networking with fellow authors. It’s the main perk in my humble opinion. You just never know what journey you may travel from the contacts you make at a writers’ conference. 

Time travel with me to a writers’ conference where Dr. Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels) and Joan Hess met. Barbara’s first book was published in 1966, The Master of Blacktower. Joan Hess, first book, Strangled Prose, was published in 1986. I’ve loved reading each and every one of their books. 

As Barbara says in her self-written biography,The craft of writing delights me. It is impossible to attain perfection; there is always something more to be learned– figuring out new techniques of plotting or characterization, struggling with recalcitrant sentences until I force them to approximate my meaning. And nothing is ever wasted. Everything one sees and hears, everything one learns, can be used.”

I’d loved to have been a fly on the wall when these two, now, power authors met. What fun! Joan Hess’s (aka Joan Hadley) first book, Strangled Prose, was published in 1986. Joan gave a recent interview to The Strand Magazine recalling her first writer’s conference: “I met Barbara at my first mystery convention in 1986. I approached her timidly and complimented her on her “steamy tent scenes” in the Amelia series. She was amused. Over the years, we often talked on the phone about politics, other writers (gossip), and publishing. She was my mentor. When I needed a new agent, she took care of that in a day. We would gather with our closest friends for house parties and our secret “Grouchercons.” 

Barbara and Joan both turned a chance meeting at a writers’ conference into a life-long friendship. Unfortunately, Barbara Mertz died on August 8, 2013 at the age of 85. When Barbara died, she left behind an outline and partial manuscript for what would be her last Amelia Peabody book, The Painted Queen. If you haven’t read her series, it’s fantastic. Now here’s the writers’ conference connection. Her longtime friend she met back in 1986, Joan Hess, completed Barbara’s work in process, to the delight of all Amelia Peabody fans. On Barbara Mertz’s birthday, September 29, 2017, Barbara’s legacy continued with the release of The Painted Queen.

Do you have goosebumps, yet? I learned this past weekend sadly, that author, Joan Hess died on Thanksgiving Day, 2017, at the age of 68. Clearly, Joan was meant to finish Barbara’s last book, a tribute to friendships and bonds you could form if you attend writers’ groups and conferences. What if Joan hadn’t asked a question of veteran author, Barbara Mertz back in 1986?

As Dr. Suess says, 
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted, but mostly they're darked. 
But mostly they're darked. 
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! 
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?”

How about it? Are you going to be brave? Take a chance? Be like Joan back in 1986. Take a baby step...introduce yourself to our blog readers in the comment section. In 25 words or less tell our readers about you and link to your website. I can’t wait to see y’all on the blog.